The faction of Phyrexia aligned with white mana is organized around a grand hierarchy of belief known as the Machine Orthodoxy. The Grand Cenobite Elesh Norn, the Orthodoxy's highest-ranking Praetor, commands and guides this faction of Phyrexia, promising them a glorious future under the principles of the Argent Etchings. Everything the Phyrexians practice under the Machine Orthodoxy is designed to turn Mirrodin into a perfect new Phyrexian homeland, a kind of planewide phyresis. They see the native Mirrans as either lost unfortunates or willful sinners, deserving of reclamation and transformation in either case.
Phyrexia is a civilization based on physical qualities: flesh and metal. While Phyrexians have something like a spirituality, the vast majority of them don't seem to understand the mind, soul, or spirit the way other sentient beings do. The minds of sentient Phyrexians are certainly capable of abstract thought, but they appear to be largely disconnected from the transcendental. However, despite their physical-oriented nature, Phyrexians have fervently held, well-organized religious systems. The strange contradiction that results is a bizarre, manifest mockery of religion - an engineered religion, a faith of the physical: the Machine Orthodoxy.
Phyrexia is filled with countless orders of priests and chancellors. Cenobites are the priests in charge of the inquisition of non-Phyrexian life. Some remain in the Core, deciding the fates of the captured, whereas others can be found on the front lines, their serrated blades ready to inflict dogma on the heretics directly. Cenobites tend to be constructed of more metal than flesh, sometimes bearing religious iconography etched directly onto their oil-streaked "porcelain" metal.
As Phyrexia's orthodoxy spreads, it doesn't just transform living things to its nature. Phyrexia also establishes Annexes, buildings converted to the purpose of Phyrexian religious practice, incorporating Mirran living spaces and outposts into the Phyrexian superstructure. Annexes are led by chancellors, sentient and usually roughly humanoid Phyrexian priests who have attained high rank in the Machine Orthodoxy. Many of these captured chanceries are organized with radial architecture, with a dais in the middle meant to elevate the position of the chancellor, or sometimes a monument to Karn. Some Annexes lurk within Mirrodin's core, grand cathedrals with nightmarish architecture that serve the deep faithful.
Phyrexia did not invade Mirrodin; the Phyrexian civilization on Mirrodin developed from the corruption inside Karn, the silver golem with a Phyrexian heart. Although Phyrexia may retain a dim "memory" of its forms on other worlds, Phyrexian life on Mirrodin has largely had to grow and adapt its own structures and institutions. One such institution is a collection of written religious law and scripture known as the Argent Etchings. The Etchings are scribed on a vast, silver sculpture said to have been fashioned in the shape of a bizarre cardiac organ, perhaps based on Karn's Phyrexian heart or some part of the Praetor Elesh Norn. The etched sculpture contains maxims and laws that are interpreted by religious leaders and Praetors to fit their ends.
Phyrexian belief can be excruciatingly literal. Many low-level Phyrexian priests, chancellors, and the Deep Faithful adhere to Phyrexian rules, maxims, and texts to the unvarnished letter. The distinction between symbol and referent is often lost on them, causing behavior that appears gruesome but is motivated by religious law. If scripture says "we must eliminate the self to accomplish unity," they start sewing people together. If a Phyrexian Praetor announces it's time to "harvest the soul of Mirrodin," they harvest bodies without consideration of the consciousnesses they may be attached to, perceiving nothing but the physical. It's a surprisingly self-consistent belief system—but at the same time, when applied, it becomes a cruel, genocidal mandate.
There are several sects within Phyrexia's Machine Orthodoxy, each competing to realize their worldview. Three of the largest sects are described here.
The Flesh Singularity: The Sect of Total Unity
The Sect of Total Unity is founded on the ideal of the rejection of the selfish ego and the total unification of all things. Their twisted, almost naïve conception of the perfect community is the elimination of all barriers between individuals. The Phyrexian tendency toward literalism takes this to a frightening extreme: Phyrexians of this sect seek to literally connect all beings to one another and to become a single, vast, organic-and-metal organism, the end-state of which they call, among other names, the Flesh Singularity. (The term "flesh" here means both organic and inorganic matter; like most Phyrexians, they don't distinguish between living and dead things as potential materials for their form of life.) When all life is literally attached to all other life—by sutured skin, riveted metal, woven fur, whatever - only then will true, perfect unity be achieved.
Izathel, the high chancellor of a massive Phyrexian chancery inside the planar core, sees all life as a single, hierarchical organism, with each part serving a crucial role to the whole. The only value of any given part is to the whole organism; therefore, an individual is worse than useless - it's a threat to the unity of the Singularity. Individuals - especially those that aggressively defend their separation from the collective - are to be hunted down and made part of the whole by force. Many Phyrexians of this sect have a strange blind spot to individual behavior, almost as if they don't quite recognize the efficacy or even the existence of discrete, non-Phyrexian organisms. Guided by this observation, some Mirran rebels have had success in perplexing and deceiving a few Phyrexians by acting in radically independent ways, keeping their behavior as unique as possible. These erratic tactics are now discouraged by Mirran leaders, however, as they are now recognized as sinful and highly aberrant by Singularity-Sect Phyrexians and can draw deadly attention.
Phyrexians of the Flesh Singularity sect seem to have a special hatred for, or fear of, skin. To them, the skin (or whatever a creature has as its outer covering) is the ultimate boundary, the wall that divides the self from the outside world, and individuals from one another. Many deaths at the hands of Phyrexians of the Machine Orthodoxy involve brutal, almost ritualized flaying. It's rare for these Phyrexians to leave a victim's skin whole when compleating it; they often replace nearly all of a creature's former hide with glossy, porcelain-like armor or some other material that is less emblematic of discrete individuality.
The Porcelain Legion: The Sect of the Ideal Form
The flesh of many native Phyrexians, particularly those of the Porcelain Legion sect, is often covered with a hard, white, bonelike metal similar in appearance to porcelain. While this substance is inflexible and iron-hard, the visual impression of a force of these Phyrexians is the appearance of an army made of delicate porcelain. Under the protective porcelain lie bone, metal endoskeletal structure, raw sinew, and sometimes sensory apparatuses such as eyes or auditory organs.
Only on core-born Phyrexians does this porcelain metal develop organically. For compleated Phyrexians (former Mirrans), the porcelain substance must be grown in special vats and implanted in the victim's body. The porcelain metal tends to thrive best when embedded in dying or recently-dead flesh, spreading over the fertile tissue like metallic lichen. Extra tissue harvested from Phyrexia's war victims is often used to help grow more of the hard, white metal in the porcelain vats.
Despite the rising power of the Flesh Singularity sect, most Phyrexians of the Machine Orthodoxy are still de facto individuals, able to move and act somewhat independently. However, the agendas of other sects, such as the Porcelain Legion, still make their mark upon them. The ideal of the Porcelain Legion is the idealization of the physical form—and the Phyrexian concept of "idealization" is a ruthless one. To these Phyrexians, a being's ideal form is that which perfectly serves the Phyrexian hierarchy. If the community is an organism, then every part must be designed and crafted to serve its role for the survival of that organism. Much of Phyrexia's power and raw building material, however, comes from the races and creatures it subjugates. Before a newcomer can achieve its ideal form, therefore, it must first be relieved of its old form.
A leonin captured by the Porcelain Legion will be subjected to their transformation process. Like a porcelain doll, the leonin will be smashed into its components parts, its organs spread wide and its metallic sinew rearranged. It will be modified for its new purpose - its muscles tightened, its digestion rerouted, its mind scrubbed and readapted to its new objectives. Some parts may be deemed useless to the new Phyrexian's purpose; most will be reused elsewhere. Some additions may be made to enhance its function, sometimes taken from other "newcomers" - extra arms, more teeth, and of course, seed-grafts of the "porcelain" armor plates made of the hard, white, bonelike metal. Then, as the final act of the new being's transformation, the Phyrexian oil is introduced into its body. The oil magically spreads throughout the organism, making changes at an invisible level, completing the conversion to Phyrexia and its journey to its ideal form.
The Apostles of Karn: The Sect of the Creator's Destiny
Another sect of the Machine Orthodoxy is the Apostles of Karn, those who are concerned with restoring a centralized leader to Phyrexia. Although the Phyrexian civilization that has grown on Mirrodin was not the same as that led by Yawgmoth, the lack of a focal leader is felt on an instinctual level. This sect believes that Phyrexia is currently like a body without a head, a kingdom without a king, and has adopted the powerful silver golem Karn as their chosen leader. Currently Karn, in his erratic and unstable mental state, is incapable of taking true command over Phyrexia, but the Apostles do all they can to prepare for the day when he'll ascend to the throne.
Karn flung himself to Mirrodin, the metal world he once created as Argentum, while simultaneously surrendering his planeswalker spark for the sake of the plane of Dominaria. Stranded on Mirrodin with Xantcha's Phyrexian personality matrix, Karn's mind came unhinged, and the influence of Phyrexia festered and grew inside him. Deep within Mirrodin's core, the trace of glistening oil within the silver golem became the seed for a reborn Phyrexian civilization, leaving Karn himself trapped within its widening web. The Apostles of Karn and other Phyrexians help to groom and nurture the mind-injured golem, plugging him into a specially constructed Phyrexian throne and harvesting his whispered ravings as scripture. At times, Karn is a full-blown Phyrexian leader, uttering commands to destroy the last vestiges of Mirran life; during these moments, the Apostles record and evangelize his Word with fervent excitement. Other times, Karn is lucid enough to struggle against his Phyrexian corruption; this is when the Apostles act as jailers, preventing his escape and traumatizing him back into submission.
The Apostles of Karn know that when Karn is ready to lead Phyrexia, Phyrexia must be ready for his leadership. They lament the ideological schisms that have divided Phyrexia and work to send ambassadors to negotiate unity among the other factions.
|Elesh Norn||Grand Cenobite|
Praetor of Unity